In the Light of the Tree

by Amber Jensen


The celebration of holidays shifts as we age and move through the seasons of life. There are so many gifts to be had in each shifting space.


I like to sit near my Christmas tree in the dark, during the holiday of giving and thanks, and pull out gifts from the past. Memories. I like to mull them over, feel them wash over me and relive certain beloved adventures. A few of my most treasured are of my Grandmothers.


My Grandmother (Gramma) visited our home for a birthday party recently. As I sat across from her, listening to her laughing and watching her eyes sparkle, I started thinking about how Christmas has shifted for me in the past 10 years.


I’m blessed to still have both of my Grandmothers and as much as I attempt to pull memories apart, I can’t think of a Christmas, growing up, that didn’t involve either one of them.


Neither one of these amazing women is the gal in the kitchen baking up a storm. They’re both amazing cooks, both with their own style and flair, but I never remember them donning a fancy holiday apron and flouncing about with flour flying. 


These two women have given me loads of gifts over the years, though I’m unable to recall most that I unwrapped near the tree. The gifts I hold dearest are the things I’ve received through spending time with them, through sitting near them and by observing their comforting relaxed demeanor.


My Granny, mother of my dad, is a small statured woman, quiet and feisty. She spent my growing up life, married to a man we called Papa. While I don’t remember many details of each Christmas, I do vividly remember the last Christmas I shared with them both and the way my Granny stared up into his faded blue-jean eyes when he gave her a great big diamond ring. She gazed, so loving and softly up at him, and for my heart, it was odd to see her that way. 


You see, Granny had given me the gift of stoic Norwegian love. That last Christmas I witnessed something I had missed before – the permission to let go of cold restraint when appropriate. Softness. The woman of few words, the one that huffed and grumbled about my Papa slapping her tush, that woman stood, melting into her husband’s arms, in front of the whole family. She had nearly the same response when, on the same Christmas, Papa gifted her with a fuzzy bathrobe. I learned, Christmas after Christmas, that it really didn’t matter what the gift, he loved her, and she was always and forever his bride.


The Jensen Family 2018 Christmas Tree.

My Gramma, mother of my own mother, is a loud laughing singing-in-the-car-with-the-windows-down woman, with a knack for yodeling, oil painting and working fabric into stitched art. My grandfather, her husband, passed away before I started collecting my adult relationship memories of her. As I have heaps of fond memories, one that came to mind the other day was of this incredible woman, huge laugh and quick wit, playing pinochle at the table surrounded by all her kids. Us grandkids sat under the table until the grown ups kicked us out. Then we just went off on our own to play pretend.


My Gramma has a laugh that I could listen to all day. Her voice is billowy and crisp like fresh cotton on a summer line. I can’t recall or reproduce the sound of it but I know deeply the way I feel when I hear it or close my eyes and think of it. 


I still don’t know how to play pinochle but those many holidays of being sent off to play gave me the gift of letting go and of appreciating the seasons of life. 


I don’t remember the last holiday my Gramma sat up late with all her kids at a pinochle table. Life has us all spread out and busy. Though that season may be over for her children, I’m just entering it in my own life. I choose not to fuss with my kids on special occasions and I don’t take myself away from the fellowship of the holiday to put them safely away. I push it as long as I can, telling them to go play, ignoring as many screams as I can and enjoying the company of the adults in our lives that we get so attached to, yet completely and too often distant from.


Christmas has shifted a lot since building a family of my own. I no longer go to my Granny or Gramma’s house to celebrate holidays with my cousins and play pretend.

I do hold them, and the memories we made together, as gifts. I even bring them out, especially during quiet evenings during the season of thanks and giving, I open them up and remember.



Amber Jensen is an author, journalist and freelance copywriter specializing in pieces that highlight the human condition as connection and contribution. She hails from small town Idaho, and makes her chaotic home on a piece of dirt in Eastern Washington, with her adventure seeking husband and four wild children.

Learn more about Amber by visiting



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